Full disclosure, I spent about a week in November last year teaching English online and hated most of the experience. So, you might think I’m going to be a total negative Nancy about teaching English online, but I’m really not! I just think that the general perception of it is overwhelmingly positive. And I wanted to create a more balanced outlook.
For many people, the benefits do outweigh the downsides and that’s awesome. However, it’s unrealistic to assume teaching English in a classroom is suitable for everyone, so teaching English via your laptop most definitely won’t be for everyone either.
What is teaching English all about?
For those who might not be fully sure of what this means, teaching English as a foreign/second language (TEFL or TESL) basically means teaching your native language of English to people who want to learn it. You don’t need to speak that other person’s language. Many countries think immersion is a much more effective way of learning a language.
English language teachers generally move abroad and teach in a school. Popular countries that hire native English speakers as teachers include China, South Korea and Japan. Also, many South East Asian countries as well as Spain, Eastern European countries and South America hire TEFL teachers fairly often.
The qualifications that an English language teacher needs varies wildly between countries and companies. On the top end of the scale, you might need a University degree and a CELTA qualification. On the bottom end, you might just need a degree and/or a TEFL certificate and experience. Or they may be quite happy to train you from the ground up!
And what is teaching English online?
Simply, this means taking the teacher and the students out of the classroom and plonking them behind their computer screens in each other’s respective countries. Thanks to our ‘busy’ lives and the invention of Skype, it can be much more convenient for adults and children alike to take English lessons after school or work in their free time.
Teaching English Online: The Pros and Cons
PRO: Being able to work from home and choose your hours
This is the number one reason anyone works online, am I right? The ability to avoid a busy and expensive commute, actually be home to receive your parcels and put your washing on is such a luxury. If you teach English as a foreign language online, all you need is a decent laptop with a webcam and a good headset. That’s it! Oh, and a quiet/appropriate environment. More on that later.
I also found that flash cards with the alphabet, colours, numbers and animals and also a small whiteboard were super handy. You don’t need any extra props unless your company tells you differently but they were a lifeline to me.
CON: Students live halfway around the world
However, being able to choose your own hours can be slightly trickier than you think.
I worked for a company teaching Chinese students. I am based in the UK, which means the students in China are around seven or eight hours ahead. This means that you’re unlikely to work past 14:00 in the afternoon. But this might actually be totally fine for you if you’re only interested in working a couple of hours a day. Teaching English online is really popular with students and retirees for this reason.
PRO: There are lots of companies you can work for
Honestly, it’s not that hard to find teaching positions online. If you type ‘teaching English online’ into Google you’re bound to generate pages and pages of results alerting you to all these different companies or articles listing different companies. If you’re in a pinch and you need to earn money fast, there are worse jobs than teaching English online.
I didn’t have any teaching experience at all when I was hired, though I do have a degree and a TEFL certificate. I was trained by a couple of other teachers and I could ask them questions about the work and they were so nice and helpful. Then, I was judged on my lessons during a trial period rather than a stiff and awkward interview. So I started work straight away! However, this can mean you could be fired as quickly as you were hired.
CON: You actually have to work and be switched on at all times
Let’s imagine you’re booked in for six half-hour lessons from 10:00 – 13:00. You can’t really leave your seat for those three hours. You might be allowed to finish a half-hour lesson five minutes early to wrap up and prepare for the next one, but that’s not really a lot of time if you need to pop to the loo or grab a drink as well. And if the doorbell goes, you can’t really just leave even for a minute.
And you also have to look professional. A number of my colleagues were told off for having wet hair and drinking (not alcohol, obvs) during lessons. Your environment needs to be appropriate if it’s on camera and it needs to be quiet.
This is one of the main reasons why teaching English online can be super stressful and difficult if you’re backpacking. You need a quiet space and you need to guarantee there isn’t going to be someone shouting profanities in the same room as you. That’s a lot easier to do at home!
PRO: There is room to grow within the right company
Teaching English is sometimes wrongly thought of as having no career path. The positions are usually filled by 20-something travellers who just want to live abroad while making money so are often thought of as dead-end jobs.
However, I personally know a handful of people that have proven themselves to be excellent English-language teachers and their companies have rewarded their hard work. One became a Digital Marketing Officer and ran the company’s social media and advertised the company to potential hires. They hired another to overhaul the curriculum and learning materials, and I know one woman with a DELTA qualification who leads English classes for overseas undergraduates at a UK University. She runs her own tutoring business and teaches privately because you don’t need to work for a company if you can attract the work yourself.
Okay, so it’s not as lucrative as other career paths but English teaching experience is definitely not pointless by a long shot.
CON: Low starting salary and giving up your free time
Perhaps one of the biggest downsides to teaching English online is this: be prepared to do a lot of work for very little pay, at least in the beginning. I had never taught English before and the company provided a lot of material for a lot of age ranges. I spent so many hours getting to grips with the workbooks and it seemed never-ending.
My pay was £4.50 per half hour. So, I’d need to teach seven hours, five days a week to make some kind of full-time income. That doesn’t include lesson-planning and preparation. I know you might be thinking “well, teachers do work long hours.” And they do and they don’t get paid enough. But £9 an hour isn’t a lot for skilled, intensive work.
My company had a sliding scale and if you were left 100+ five-star reviews by students or parents they would bump up your pay to £12 an hour. But literally no one left reviews, so this was a joke.
PRO: Working and interacting with children every day
I know, I know, some people really do love working with kids! Crazy, right?! I do too, under the right circumstances. I absolutely adored my time working as a Camp Counsellor in Pennsylvania and the kids were the main reason why I loved it so much.
Working with children can make your work fun and interesting and one of the main reasons teachers love what they do is seeing their students gain confidence and a better understanding of the subject you’re teaching them. In a world where it seems fewer and fewer people receive any job satisfaction, it’s great to be able to see progress and purpose in your work.
CON: It can be really exhausting and repetitive
However, whether you enjoy your work is entirely dependent on you, your students and your company. The company I worked for wouldn’t keep any consistency between students and teachers. So, you’d barely ever see the same student twice. Not only did this make it so hard to learn anything about your students and build a rapport, but you have to spend more of your free time going over their notes to know what to teach them.
Let’s just imagine for a minute that you’re about to sit for four hours straight. One student after another, with a huge grin on your face, making animated arm movements and constantly trying to think on your feet because your student just doesn’t understand what you’re trying to convey. For four hours straight, at least. It’s bloody tiring! And can get boring quite fast. At least it did for me, ha.
Also, some of the kids are just too young. I taught one child who was just three years old. She was eating fruit during the first part of our lesson and when her parents took it off her she started to cry and it was just so hard to watch. In another lesson, I taught a very bright nine-year-old and his mum didn’t like the book I was reading from (and had prepared with) so I had to choose another on the fly.
Like I said, exhausting.
PRO: Use your existing teaching skills back home, or as a launchpad to move abroad
If you’re planning on teaching English abroad then teaching English online for a few months could be a fantastic way to build up your experience/confidence before you go!
Or, maybe you’re teaching English abroad at the moment and you’re coming home in a few months with no idea how to earn money then you’ll find it super easy to find a job teaching English online.
CON: Teaching English isn’t as easy as it looks
This is the one misconception that really grinds my gears. Just because you speak English does not mean you will automatically be good at teaching it or even be good at teaching at all. To be honest I can’t imagine how most people could teach English without having at least a TEFL certification. It’s bloody difficult.
And teaching English online comes with its own difficulties, some I’ve already listed. But I couldn’t finish the post without touching on the ‘technical difficulties’ that you might face. Internet cuts out, the student can’t hear your voice or see you, password problems… Oh, endless things can and do go wrong! And if it does, you don’t get paid and have a black mark against your name.
I don’t really want to end on a bad note because teaching English online can be a fantastic job! It’s not for everyone but there’s definitely scope for you to give it a try without giving up your current source of income.
So, what have you got to lose?
Have you had experience teaching English online? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!